Dr. Jennie Z. Young

Dr. Jennie Z. Young appointed Executive Director for the Canadian Brain Research Strategy

Executive summary:

The appointment of Dr. Jennie Z. Young as Executive Director of the Canadian Brain Research Strategy marks a new phase in the development of this initiative which aims to link brain research initiatives and projects, public and private funders, and patient organizations across Canada in a uniquely collaborative effort that will push the frontiers of brain science. Dr. Young will work to make brain research a national priority, for the benefit of all Canadians.

The Canadian Brain Research Strategy (CBRS) is pleased to mark a new phase of development in their initiative with the appointment of Dr. Jennie Z. Young as Executive Director. Dr. Young holds a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Alberta, and spent 14 years abroad at MIT in the laboratories of Nobel Laureate Susumu Tonegawa and Picower Institute Director Li-Huei Tsai, where she played a key role in ground-breaking discoveries in the fields of learning and memory and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Young accepted this position following her role at Brain Canada, where she managed Brain Canada’s largest funded projects and worked on building partnerships with national and international non-profit organizations, foundations, federal and provincial government, as well as industry to develop national research funding programs.

The CBRS is a pan-Canadian initiative uniting over 30 world-leading neuroscience and mental health institutes across Canada to date, with the objective of mobilizing efforts around a common vision: to position the advancement of knowledge about the brain as a national research priority.

“Dr. Jennie Young brings a passion for the exceptional quality and collaborative nature of neuroscience research in Canada. “ said Yves De Koninck, Chair of the Canadian Brain Research Strategy.  “In her new role as CBRS Executive Director, Dr. Young will lead the development and implementation of this network which will act as a hub by linking existing brain research initiatives and projects, public and private funders, and community and patient organizations across the country in a uniquely collaborative effort that will push the frontiers of brain science.”


“We are very happy to have recruited Dr. Jennie Young to our team”, said Judy Illes, Co-Chair of the Canadian Brain Research Strategy. “Her experience in both research and management make her uniquely skilled to lead the development of the CBRS to its full potential.”

The CBRS will consolidate existing collaborative relationships in the field to advance the leadership of the CBRS within the International Brain Initiative (IBI), which convenes seven of the world’s major brain research projects.

“The IBI is thrilled to learn of the appointment of Dr. Young as CBRS Executive Director.  CBRS continues to be an integral thought-leader and partner within the IBI.  This appointment marks an important milestone in solidifying the cohesion and collaborative networks these organizations seek to build,” said Agnes McMahon International Brain Initiative Program Director.


“Neurological Health Charities Canada is looking forward to bringing the voices of individuals with lived experience of brain conditions to the development of the Canadian Brain Research Strategy. Our coalition has long been a champion of the power of collaboration in science, and Dr. Young’s leadership will ensure the CBRS includes this important component,” said Deanna Groetzinger, Manager of Neurological Health Charities Canada.


“I am excited about the role that CBRS can play as a convener and enabler, to connect the neuroscience ecosystem across domains and bring out a unified voice that will elevate the visibility and importance of brain research.” said Dr. Young. “With our country’s established track record for excellence in brain and mental health research, as well as the rising burden of brain disorders, the scientific and health potential for each brain research discovery is immense. The collaborative spirit championed by CBRS has the potential to translate our common efforts into major advances in all sectors of society.”

Brain initiative

US Congress Passes Budget Bill: NIH BRAIN Initiative Receives $60M in Additional Funds for Fiscal Year 2021

John Ngai, Ph.D. Director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative recently shared the following news:
The recently authorized Omnibus Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2021 provides $42.9 billion for NIH, an increase of $1.25 billion (or 1.5%) above fiscal year 2020. This appropriation includes $560 million for the NIH BRAIN Initiative, a $60 million increase over last year’s $500 million appropriation. We are deeply grateful for Congress’s strong and continuing support of our mission.

The spending bill includes $404 million of appropriated funds authorized in the 21st Century Cures Act. The Cures Act, signed into law in December 2016, allocates funding to NIH each year through 2026, for a total of $4.8 billion across all projects described in the Act. The BRAIN Initiative was one of four highly innovative scientific initiatives designated to receive multi-year funding through the Innovation Fund of the Cures Act, reflecting enthusiasm for the Initiative and its goals. This funding must be appropriated each year by Congress.

The $560 million appropriation for the NIH BRAIN Initiative includes $100 million in Cures Act funds. This legislation reflects strong bipartisan Congressional support for biomedical research, and will provide NIH with the resources needed to continue to work towards the goals in BRAIN’s strategic plan, which was initially outlined by the BRAIN 2025 report and recently updated and enhanced through the BRAIN 2.0 neuroscience and neuroethics reports. Importantly, this generous allocation for 2021 will accelerate the launch of two transformative projects outlined in those reports that “stand out in for their importance to human health and technical viability,” specifically: $40 million for the Human Brain Cell Atlas and $20 million for the Armamentarium for Brain Cell Access. Collectively, this funding will help accelerate BRAIN’s mission to develop and apply innovative tools and neurotechnologies, as well as to support researchers as they seek new ways to treat, cure, and ultimately prevent brain disorders.

In addition to the increased funds for the BRAIN Initiative, the Omnibus Bill:

The spending bill will fund the government until the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2021.

The Canadian Brain Strategy featured in the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health Annual Report

The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health Annual Report includes a feature on Judy Illes and her work with the Canadian Brain Research Strategy team

When it comes to studying the brain, it’s essential to consider the many ethical questions that often arise. Neuroethics Canada is a research group that’s part of the DMCBH and led by Dr. Judy Illes. This year, her team has worked on several projects, including the exciting launch of the Canadian Brain Research Strategy with a $1.5 million CIHR grant.

Dr. Illes is co-leading the strategy with Professor Yves de Koninck and early career researcher Dr. Caroline Menard at the University of Laval. It already involves more than 30 teams from across the country. Canada’s participation is part of a larger International Brain Initiative, which brings together the world’s major brain research projects, all aimed at better understanding the human brain and discovering new treatments to address neurological and psychiatric disorders.

See the DMCBH Annual report here, and read the full feature on page 14

Julie Payette, Rémi Quirion

Dr. Judy Illes asks the Governor General a question on science and interdisciplinarity in Canada

At the recent GGconversations episode (September 24, 2020), Her Excellency the Right Honourable Governor General Julie Payette and Quebec’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Rémi Quirion, take a live question from Dr. Judy Illes on team science and discuss the importance of interdisciplinarity.

Are we doing enough, team science, to leverage Canada’s strength and highlight them to the world? asked Dr. Illes.

Click the link below to view the full episode (Dr. Illes’ question at 7 minutes):

covid-19 cdc

Judy Illes discusses back to school in COVID-19 times

“It is like sitting on a cliff,” says Dr. Judy Illes, Canada Research Chair in neuroethics at the University of British Columbia. “For parents, it revolves around the central question: Am I doing the right thing? What is the right thing for you when the ground is a long way down or shifting under you constantly?” Read the full article in the National Post: ‘It is like sitting on a cliff’: September, schools and pre-traumatic stress disorder in COVID times

$1.5 million to develop a Canadian brain research strategy

A pan-Canadian team of researchers has secured a $1.5 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop a strategy to position the advancement of knowledge about the brain as a national research priority and support the creation of the Canadian Brain Research Strategy Network. This network will coordinate Canada’s participation in the International Brain Initiative, which brings together the world’s major brain research projects.

Neurological disorders are the leading cause of disability and the second leading cause of death worldwide. The burden of neurological disorders has substantially increased over the last 25 years with the aging of the Canadian population. The coordinated efforts of brain researchers from across Canada through the Canadian Brain Research Strategy Network offers an unprecedented chance to reduce this burden and to improve the quality of life of Canadians.

The Canadian Brain Research Strategy Network is headed up by Dr. Yves De Koninck, a professor with Université Laval’s Faculty of Medicine and director of the CERVO Brain Research Centre, and Dr. Judy Illes, a professor at the University of British Columbia and director of Neuroethics Canada. The heads of 31 teams from Canada’s leading neuroscience institutes and research centres will join with them in developing the strategy. The coalition Neurological Health Charities Canada will bring the voice of Canadians affected by brain conditions to strategy development.

Several issues convinced the researchers of the urgency of developing a coordinated vision of brain research. “The first was the slow progress in the fight against brain disease,” explains De Koninck. “We’re still not able to cure or effectively treat disorders or illnesses like autism, Alzheimer’s, addiction, or depression. We believe that concerted action by neuroscience researchers will be a game-changer, just like it was for cardiovascular disease, where mortality rates have dropped 75% compared to 60 years ago.”

Another issue was the human and economic cost of brain disease. “In the course of their lives, one Canadian in three will be diagnosed with a brain disease or experience a brain injury. This often has a devastating impact on their quality of life and that of their families,” adds Deanna Groetzinger, manager of Neurological Health Charities Canada (NHCC), a coalition of organizations that represent people with brain diseases, disorders and injuries in Canada. “A 2016 study showed that neurological illnesses and mental health problems generated annual costs to the Canadian economy of some $61 billion.  In addition, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on stress and anxiety, particularly among health care workers and people living with brain conditions, shows just how important mental health is to our society.”

The Canadian Brain Research Strategy will coordinate Canada’s involvement in the International Brain Initiative. Like the Human Genome Project, which brought the entire scientific community together between 1988 and 2003 around the sequencing of the human genome, the International Brain Initiative will see thousands of scientists working toward a shared objective: understanding how the brain works and improving the treatments available to those suffering from brain-related illnesses. “Key aspects of the Canadian Brain Research Strategy in this regard are the ethical, legal, societal and cross-cultural importance of discoveries about the brain and their meaningful translation into practice” notes Illes. “The neuroethical piece has already grounded the formulation and execution of the Strategy.”

“Canada’s participation will focus on the brain’s plasticity, which underpins our ability to learn, remember, and adapt,” says De Koninck. “This should give us greater insight into how these processes can be disrupted and lead to brain disorders and pathologies. We also hope our collaborative, concerted approach to research will attract note. We want the Canadian way to set an example for other countries.”